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"Tales of Oppression" by Isaac T. Hopper, National Anti-Slavery Standard (March 25, 1841)

In this sixteenth installment of his column "Tales of Oppression," published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard on March 25, 1841, Isaac T. Hopper relates the story of a fugitive slave named Thomas Hughes. Hopper was a Quaker who helped develop and run Underground Railroad activities first in Philadelphia and then in New York, where the paper was published.

Transcription from Original

Tales of Oppression.

No. XVI.

BY ISAAC T. HOPPER.

Thomas Hughes and John P. Darg.—Thomas Hughes came with his master, John P. Darg, to this city, in the latter part of the 8th month, 1838, and soon afterwards left his service, taking with him seven or eight thousand dollars of the master's money. Six thousand, nine hundred and eight dollars, were recovered through my instrumentality and returned to Darg. Barney Corse negotiated the business, and previously to his having any knowledge that the lost money had been recovered, he agreed with Darg that Hughes should be manumitted forthwith, on condition that the whole, or the greater part of the money taken, as advertised in "The Sun" should he returned. Much the greater part of this money was returned, as above mentioned, and consequently Tom became legally entitled to his freedom. It is generally known, that he was sentenced to the State prison for the term of two years, that being the shortest term allowed by law for the offence of which he was convicted. It has been invidiously asserted, that he had been tampered with by abolitionists previously to leaving Darg's service; but all who have read the trial must see, that there is not the least ground even for suspicion of the kind. It has also been said, that, preferring slavery to freedom, he had voluntarily returned into bondage. This equally false with the other. The facts of the case are these.

His sentence expired the 22d of last month, and on that day I visited him in prison at Sing Sing. I stated to him, in the presence of one of the Inspectors, that I had come to inform him of the position in which he stood—that he was a free man, and therefore at liberty to stay at the North or to go to the South—that on this point there was no doubt, for I had advised with three of the most respectable lawyers in New-York, and they were clearly of opinion that he was free—and that if he wished to remain at the North, I would do all I could to protect him. I told him, at the same time, that I had no advice to give him in relation to the matter—that I wished him to exercise his own feelings and judgment in the case. He knew Darg, and the business he followed (gambling,) and that no confidence could be reposed in him—and that, if he went with him, I had no doubt he would very soon sell him, and that he would never see his wife. After a short pause, he informed me that he had considered the matter, and had come to the conclusion to remain at the North. I then observed to him, that I hoped he would remain firm in whatever conclusion he should then adopt.

Darg and his wife had been several times to see him,—They informed him that they should not attempt to take him unless he wished to go; but that, if he would accompany them to the South, he should live in freedom with his wife, for whom he manifested a warm affection whenever he spoke of her. The keeper agreed to discharge Tom the next morning at 9 o'clock. Immediately after I left the prison, Darg had another interview with him, and again on the morning of the day he was liberated, and, no doubt, held out such inducements as prevailed upon Tom to change his determination; and, I have reason to believe that some, at least, of the officers of the prison lent their aid to effect that object.

At 9 o'clock, Tom received his final discharge in the presence of Darg. I then asked him what he wished to do, when he spoke in substance as follows "I am now a FREE MAN, and can stay at the North, or go to the South. I have been told (he did not say by whom) that Mr. Darg is insolvent, but he has shown me more money than I ever saw him have before, and also some of the notes which I removed. I have always found Mr. Darg true to me, and I wish to go with him." I then replied, "I am satisfied, but thou shouldst have told me so yesterday." He then stepped into a carriage with Darg, which was in waiting, and drove off, highly elated with the idea that he was about to enjoy his liberty and the society of his wife. But there is much reason to fear, that he will he disappointed in both, and that ere this he has been sold to some of those wretches who speculate in human flesh. Darg knew Tom was free, and did not attempt to exercise any right of ownership over him; neither had Tom any suspicion that his liberty would be called in question. I have heard that it has been asserted, that he preferred slavery to liberty; but so far from this being true, he declared that be would take his own life rather than return to the South as a slave. It has been said, that while in prison at Sing Sing, he became a Christian. There is some ground to fear that his Christianity was rather superficial, or he would hardly have been willing to place himself in a situation where he must lend his aid to a business followed only by men who prey upon the community, and who are the most abandoned of mankind.

The following account of his life was taken from himself, while he was in prison in this city:

"I was born at Richmond, Virginia; my father was my first master; at the age of eleven months, myself, mother and twin sister, were sold to my father's brother; who, as well as my father, was a planter of great wealth, before my recollection. My mother and sister were resold, but to whom, or where taken I never could ascertain. At the age of thirteen years, I was sold, and my father's son became my owner, who then resided in the state of Kentucky; his orders were so severe I remonstrated with him, for treating a brother as he did me; for doing which I was sold, hand-cuffed, and my feet tied under a horse's belly; taken to Maysville, shipped on board a boat for Louisiana, together with about five hundred more slaves, and sold; fortunately for me, as I supposed, my master was a gambler, and resided at Louisville, Kentucky, with whom, as his body servant, I soon returned. I resided with him for three years, when fortune turned against him, and he informed me he should be obliged to sell me. During my residence at Louisville, I ascertained my father had moved to Kentucky; I told my master that my father was a white man and a planter of great wealth; that if I could see him I thought he would purchase me and set me free. Upon which he consented to let me go and see him; on arriving in the place where he resided, I found he was quite as wealthy as he was in Virginia; I called upon him, told him that my name was Thomas, the son of his slave Rachel, and that from good information, I had no doubt he was my father, which he did not deny. I told him of the injustice of my relatives, in selling me; informed him that I was to be again sold, and begged him to purchase and manumit me. I told him of the miserable life I was leading, subject to the will of any person who might become my master; but to all my entreaties he turned a deaf ear, and in public would not speak to me as he passed me. I remained in the place two weeks, to ascertain if possible, where my mother and sister were; but so indifferent was he to their fate, he had not taken the name of their purchaser, or the destination of the drove of which they formed a part. I again returned to Louisville, and soon found myself going to Louisiana to be sold; on my arrival, Mr. John P. Darg became my purchaser, who being of the same profession as my former master, that is, a gambler, my life was spent in much the same manner as before; the fact of Mr. Drag's being a gambler, I have been compelled to contradict, but it is true. Two days previous to my leaving New Orleans, I married one of my master's slaves. It is painful for me to leave my wife, but should I be taken to the South I am doomed never to see her, as I shall no doubt be sold; or should I remain his slave, his fortune may change, and I be forever separated from my wife, and perchance family; or raise children only to augment his wealth, liable to be torn from each other at any moment; the idea of which made my situation doubly painful;—under these considerations I resolved, before I left New Orleans, never to return a slave. As I had ever been a trusty slave, my master allowed me to carry the key to the trunk in which he carried his money. I supposed by taking his money and leaning him, he would be willing to give me my liberty, in case his money was returned; but I found other difficulties; it was necessary to have some person to return the money, this, two colored men engaged to do, but as soon as my fluster advertised the money, offering a large reward, they became alarmed and sought to secrete me. Had I informed the gentlemen who came to inquire if I had taken my master's money of the facts, I have no doubt it would have been all returned; but I concealed the fact, in hopes the colored men would return it to my master, until my fears were awakened by one of the Friends, as to the safety of the money. I then told him to whom I had given it, and desired him to go and get the money, as I dare not do it, return it to my master and ask him to manumit me. To this he reluctantly assented, saying I had done very wrong, of which I am fully satisfied; but as my master could state, were he here, he has intrusted me with larger sums for a long time and I never defrauded him of a cent.

"I trust, when I say I never had any other design than to secure my freedom, that my statement will be believed, and that I intended to return every farthing of the money to its lawful owner; neither was any man who has been implicated in this unhappy affair, ever to be benefited in any way; they ever manifested their regret to think I had been so imprudent, and notwithstanding officers Peck and Merritt have held out every inducement to gem one to swear that they, the persons charged, knew of my intentions, and advised me to the step, before I took the money; saying that I should not be tried, but used as a witness, and many other promises of like purport; I clear my conscience, and do justice to innocent men, when I say they knew nothing of me until after I had left my master, and if any man is guilty I am the one; if any men is to be punished let that punishment fall upon me, and let those gentlemen be credited for their honorable motives in trying to restore to my master the money I had wrongfully taken.

"I will also here express my regret for concealing many things, and for having made statements at variance with this; but they were not true; I was compelled to do so by the presence of my master or one of the police officers above alluded to, who have ever done all they could to prejudice me against those men and the principles they profess, so much so, that it has seemed to me, they not only wanted me to swear to the truth, but to a little more than the truth, to suit their purpose.

"I have here stated every circumstance as it has occurred and to whom the guilt of the whole belongs.

"THOMAS HUGHES" His X mark.

Aged about twenty-two years.

"Witness present, Horace Dresser.

"Halls of Justice, New-York, Nov. 22d, 1838."